Scary True Stories: The Pendle Witches

The True Story of the Pendle Witches

Meet author Catherine Cavendish. While I’m hanging out with the pharaohs, Catherine has kindly agreed to entertain you with the scary true story of the Pendle Witches. I’ll respond to your comments and return blog visits when I get back.

Take it away, Catherine!

My novel – The Pendle Curse – has some of its roots in a true story. One as chilling now as it surely must have been then.

In August 1612, ten men and women were convicted, in Lancaster, England, of crimes related to witchcraft and subsequently hanged on Gallows Hill. They became known to history as the Pendle Witches. The trial was faithfully and uniquely (for the time) recorded by Thomas Potts, a clerk of the court, and then published in his book, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster.

One factor of the case has resonated down the years for reasons which could not have been foreseen at the time. Eighty years later – in 1692 – in a town thousands of miles from the wild, rugged Lancashire countryside, another trial took place in Salem, Massachusetts.

Here, between June and September, nineteen men and women were carted off to be hanged at a location also known as Gallows Hill, but the name of their place of execution wasn’t the only thing the two sets of trials had in common.

In both trials, the testimony of a child was crucial to the success of the prosecution. The Lancashire Witch trials broke new ground in allowing and conducting testimony from an underage minor. In Salem, they used Mr. Potts’s handbook on how to do it.

The true story of the Pendle Witches

It is not certain how old Jennet Device was when she testified against her mother, brother, and sister, as well as their friends and their bitter rivals. She is variously recorded as having been nine, eleven or thirteen but, by all accounts, she was under the age of fourteen. Until then, this had been seen as the youngest permissible age at which reliable testimony could be allowed in court.

So, who was she and why did she do it?

Jennet Device was the youngest (most likely illegitimate) child of widowed Elizabeth Device and lived with her older brother and sister, James and Alizon, younger brother William, and grandmother (Elizabeth Southerns, known locally as ‘Demdike,’ or demon woman.)

The women in her family were the local ‘wise women’ of the area. Their knowledge of herbs and ability to fashion ‘cures’ for ailments of both animals and humans, made them a meagre income, which they supplemented with begging, but their bitter rivals were another family – Anne Whittle (known as Chattox, for her chattering teeth) and her daughter Anne Redferne. Each family had their own set of clients and woe betide anyone if one was stolen. Whether these families had special powers or not, they certainly seem to have believed they did. Under the witch-hating King James I, they laid themselves wide open to accusations of witchcraft, but none could have suspected their chief accuser would come from within their own ranks.

Women hung for witchcraft in England

When questioned by the judge as to Jennet’s age, ambitious local magistrate Roger Nowell responded that she was “old enough.”

At the trial, Jennet could not be heard over the rowdy audience. Nor could she be seen, as she was so small. A table was brought in and she stood on it before pointing her finger, as directed by the chief prosecutor, Roger Nowell. When prompted, Jennet said, “My mother is a witch and that I know to be true. I have seen her spirit in the likeness of a brown dog, which she called Ball. The dog did ask what she would have him do and she answered that she would have him help her to kill.”

Pendle Witches on Trial

She then went on to give evidence of a witches’ sabbat, allegedly held on Good Friday of 1612. “At 12 noon about 20 people came to our house. My mother told me they were all witches.”

Her mother screamed out that the child didn’t know what she was saying and then rounded on Jennet herself. The child demanded her mother be removed from the court. Then Jennet continued with her testimony and condemned all her remaining family – with the exception of little William – to the gallows.

Why would she do such a thing? We will never know for sure of course. She may have been the only illegitimate child in the family (although she did have a younger brother) and something of an outcast. Maybe she was exacting revenge. We cannot discount the influence of Roger Nowell, who may have persuaded her that this was the only way to save herself from a similar fate to that of her family.

Whatever her motivation, Jennet disappeared from history – only to reappear in 1633 when she herself stood accused of crimes relating to witchcraft. In a bitter twist of fate, she was accused at her trial (along with sixteen others) by Edmund Robinson, a ten-year-old boy. The precedent she had unwittingly set came back to haunt her.

True story of the Pendle Witches

Jennet was found guilty and imprisoned in Lancaster Castle, where her family had been held. But times had changed and the verdict was overturned by the Privy Council some time later. Edmund Robinson admitted he had lied, saying he had been influenced by accounts of the Pendle Witch trials. Jennet was free to leave prison except for one overriding problem. Guilty or innocent, prisoners had to pay for their board, or must remain incarcerated until they could. For Jennet this would have been impossible, so she would have to stay. She was last heard of in 1636.

Cavendish Banner-2

Four hundred years ago, ten convicted witches were hanged on Gallows Hill. Now they are back…for vengeance.

Laura Phillips’s grief at her husband’s sudden death shows no sign of passing. Even sleep brings her no peace. She experiences vivid, disturbing dreams of a dark, brooding hill, and a man—somehow out of time—who seems to know her. She discovers that the place she has dreamed about exists. Pendle Hill. And she knows she must go there. But as soon as she arrives, the dream becomes a nightmare. She is caught up in a web of witchcraft and evil…and a curse that will not die.

Here’s a short extract from the beginning:

His spirit soared within him and flew up into the storm-clad sky as blackness descended and the rain became a tempest.

He flew. Lost in a maelstrom of swirling mists. Somewhere a baby cried until its sobs became distorted, tortured roars. Beyond, a black void loomed. He saw Alizon’s spirit just ahead and tried to call out to her, but his voice couldn’t reach her.

Beside him, another spirit cried out. His mother. He flinched at her screams before they were drowned in the mass—that terrible parody of some hideous child.

The blackness metamorphosed. An amorphous shape formed as his eyes struggled to see with their new vision—the gift of death. Small baby limbs flailed towards him. Eyes of fire flashed as a toothless mouth opened. Screeching, roaring and demanding to be fed. Demanding its mother.

His spirit reached out for his lover. Tried to pull her back. “Alizon!”

She turned anguished eyes to him. “It calls to me.”

He recognized it instantly. The blazing fire. The devil child. That cursed infant had come for them.

Again he reached out with arms that no longer felt connected to him, but he was powerless to stop Alizon being swept away, deep into the abomination’s maw.

“No!” His cry reverberated around him—a wail of anguish in a sea of torment.

Then…silence. Only he remained, drifting in swirling gray mists of time.

“I will find you, sweet Alizon. One day I will find you. And I will find the one who betrayed us.”

From somewhere, he heard an echo…

You can find The Pendle Curse here:

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Cat Cavendish

Catherine Cavendish lives with a long-suffering husband and ‘trainee’ black cat in North Wales. Her home is in a building dating back to the mid-18th century, which is haunted by a friendly ghost, who announces her presence by footsteps, switching lights on and strange phenomena involving the washing machine and the TV. Cat has written a number of published horror novellas, short stories, and novels, frequently reflecting her twin loves of history and horror and often containing more than a dash of the dark and Gothic. When not slaving over a hot computer, she enjoys wandering around Neolithic stone circles and visiting old haunted houses.

You can connect with Cat here:

Catherine Cavendish  Facebook  Twitter  Goodreads

Scary True Stories: Working the graveyard shift with a ghost

working graveyard shift with ghost scary #truestories

Meet Gordon, who had several spooky encounters with a ghost when he was working at a golf club in the 1970s. This is the first time he’s told his story.

Thanks, Gordon, for sharing it with us.

***

The sign taped to the clubhouse door said HELP WANTED! APPLY WITHIN. This is exactly what I was looking for after months of job hunting.

“You’re not afraid of ghosts, are ya?” The man laughed.

“No, of course not,” I said.

My new job involved cleaning the golf club from 1 a.m. until 9 a.m. The food-prep lady and the bartender asked me if I’d seen any ghosts, but I figured they were just trying to spook me. I was 17 years old and gullible–or they thought I was.

One night after the bar staff had left, I sat down for a coffee break, hoping to catch a few minutes of a movie on TV. The TV was against the windows that looked over the ninth green. After a few minutes, I noticed the reflection of someone standing behind me in the windows. I quickly checked to see if anyone was there, but I was alone. The front door was still locked, so I thought I’d just imagined it.

A half hour later, I saw it again. This time the figure walked in the opposite direction. Jumping out of my chair, I ran to where I saw the man, but again, no one was there. Maybe I was seeing something outside and only thought it was inside? I put my hands on the window to shield it from the light and peered outside. It must have been a six-foot drop to the sidewalk below. I knew then it hadn’t been anything outside.

A month went by. One night I heard water running in the kitchen. I opened the kitchen door to see the sink’s taps were on. I had finished washing the kitchen an hour before, but hadn’t used the sink. It certainly wasn’t running while I’d been in there.

Then I noticed the boardroom doors were ajar. These doors were always closed and I didn’t even have to clean in there. I pulled them shut.

After tidying up the washrooms, I found the boardroom doors ajar again. Now I thought someone was playing games with me, so I looked inside. It was a sparse room with only a large table and ten chairs. It was cooler compared to the rest of the club house. I pulled the French doors shut again and went on with my business. Those doors became an ongoing problem–every week or so, I’d walk by and they would be ajar.

A month or so later, I heard the startling sound of marbles rolling across the floor directly above me at around 2:30 in the morning. I crept up the stairs, looking for the source of the sound. After about five minutes, I began to walk downstairs when I heard it again, except this time it was on the roof!

Gerry, the weekend guy, told me he saw a man in the changing room wearing a very dated golf sweater and pants tucked into his socks. Gerry told him the building was closed for the day, and the man headed upstairs. Gerry followed him to make sure he’d left, but the man was gone. No sign of him anywhere. There was a 300-foot-long sidewalk to the parking lot and there was no way the elderly man could have made it to the parking lot in a few seconds.

One night after everyone was gone I went to the locker rooms to pick up towels. I went through the changing rooms, picked up a full bin of towels, and pushed the bin into the maintenance office. At 8:30 a.m., I went back to the office to sign out. Towels were hanging off tools and cupboards, the backs of chairs, and piled on the floor. A tingle went up my neck as though someone was watching me. I don’t know how anyone got in there, as the door was locked at all times and I’d been the only one in the building.

The towel incident made me extra nervous for the next few weeks. I started doing my downstairs tasks early, while some of the bartending staff were still around. I don’t know what any of them would have done if I yelled, but it made me feel better knowing someone else was there.

Things were pretty quiet for the next month or so, except for when I found the boardroom doors ajar. This happened every week. Once when I was three steps away they closed right in front of me.

I bolted downstairs and called the police. The cops went upstairs and looked inside, but the room was dark and empty. They said it must have been the wind, but both windows were painted shut. Then they closed the doors halfway to see if they would shut on their own, but they wouldn’t swing closed without a push. At a loss, they said, “Well, must have been the Rossmere ghost.”

Several weeks later, I was taking a break on a beautiful summer evening. Leaning against my car, I enjoyed a cigarette while looking at the building. I could see a mannequin in one of the rooms. Being 17 years old, I thought a mannequin would be a conversation piece and a cool prop. So I waited until the golf pro came in and asked if I could borrow it. He found the key for the room, and as he opened it up, a stale dusty smell filled my nose.

He stopped about halfway in. “What mannequin?”

There was no mannequin in the room. There wasn’t anything that remotely looked like a mannequin.

Blood rushed to my face. “Sorry, I guess I made a mistake.”

I felt sick to my stomach, as I knew I’d smoked a whole cigarette, which takes at least five minutes, looking at that mannequin. It was pale white and didn’t really have any features, just a head and shoulders and torso. I couldn’t see any eyes or nose or mouth. But it was there. The next night I went outside about the same time, as I was convinced I must have seen a reflection. There was no reflection at all.

I quit shortly afterwards.

Some of the men who build the Rossmere Gold course. Credit: Rossmere Country Club

Some of the men who built the Rossmere Golf course. Credit: Rossmere Country Club

 

In the years since I left, I’ve done some research into the building. It was built during the housing boom, around 1910. By the spring of 1952, Mr. J. DeFehr obtained a permit to operate a funeral parlor there.

In 1956, the Rossmere Golf and Country club was built. The house at 951 Henderson Highway was their new clubhouse. Through the years, many additions were built, but in the center of it all remains the old original house.

The dark side of America’s founding fathers

steampunk dude

Just when I’d sworn off guest posts for good, along came an offer I couldn’t refuse. If you haven’t yet met Roland Yeomans of the blog Writing in the Crosshairs, you’re in for a treat. Roland always manages to blend historical reality with fiction in a way that’s fantastically entertaining. I’m not exaggerating when I say his is one of my all-time favourite blogs. Who else gives you writing advice from the ghost of Mark Twain?

Take it away, Roland!

“I know what you have come here for: strange, true tales of horror that make fiction pale in comparison. Among us walk monsters and if you walk into their embrace, you cannot close a book to end the nightmare.

In my latest book, I write of a few monsters you may be familiar with…

official_presidential_portrait_of_thomas_jefferson_by_rembrandt_peale_1800THOMAS JEFFERSON
Who made the phrase “All men are created equal” famous – except for his black sons, whom he freed only in his will, still leaving their mother a slave.

Who sent secret government documents to the French foreign minister during the time France was at war with America, in order to undermine the current president and become the next one.
benfranklinduplessis
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN
Whose desire to appear normal had him ask a wife of a prosperous family to pay off his enormous debt with a dowry, and when refused, asked the father to mortgage his home.

Skeletons of young boys were found in the basement of his dwelling in London, where he was rumored to be a member of the infamous Hellfire Club.

Who, while in Paris, assassinated the character of John Adams behind the man’s back in letters to Congress while smiling at Adams all the while.

Who did whatever the French foreign minister Vergennes asked in return for public acclaim, posh living arrangements, and…lap dances from aristocratic ladies (see David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize winning John Adams.)

fotolia_67049324_subscription_monthly_mTHOMAS EDISON
Who never ran into another’s invention that he did not want to steal. Heinrich Goebel, ill and starving, came to Edison to sell his invention of the light bulb. Edison refused, waited for the poor man to die, and then went and bought the invention for a pittance from the starving, grieving widow.

Louis Le Prince, a French inventor, invented working motion pictures before Edison. Whoever got the patents for motion-picture technology would become very wealthy indeed.

In 1890, Le Prince took a trip to patent his invention in England, where he would then sail to America to exhibit and patent it. He got on a train on September 13, 1890, and was never seen again. His luggage vanished as well.

The family continued with Le Prince’s patent quest.

Unfortunately, in 1892, while Le Prince’s son was testifying in a patent trial against Edison, he was mysteriously shot to death by an unknown assailant. This murder was never solved, but Edison did throw a small party when “told” of the murder.

Don’t get me started on what he did to poor Nikola Tesla (who also appears in my novel).

There are exotic monsters in my novel as well.innocents-at-large-cover
* Not the Loup-garou who change to wolves at the bidding of the full moon, but the Roux-ga-roux who change to wolves at the bidding of their bloodlust. (Much like the humans of whom I’ve written above.)
* The bestial Germanic dragons and the mysterious celestial dragons of China.
* The immortal, cruel Sidhe.
* Warring global revenant kingdoms who rule under the noses of mortal Man.

But Man is monster enough.

No fiction we will write will ever be as horrific as what we do to each other.

But not all is horror and murder in THE NOT-SO-INNOCENTS AT LARGE.”

Consider buying Roland’s book for just 99 cents. Included is a free short story and a reader’s discussion section. Those who write an honest review will receive a free Neil Gaiman audio book, The Wolves in the Wall. How awesome is that?

You can connect with Roland and follow along with his amusing “Don’t Buy My Book” blog tour here. Every stop has a very different post.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Roland Yeomans was born in Detroit, Michigan. But his last memories of that city are hubcaps and kneecaps since, at the age of seven, he followed the free food when his parents moved to Lafayette, Louisiana. Hitchhiking after their speeding car was a real adventure.

Roland has a Bachelor’s degree in English Education and a Master’s degree in Psychology. He has been a teacher, counselor, book store owner, and even a pirate, since he once worked at a tax-preparation firm.

So far he has written thirty-four books. You can find Roland on his web page or at his private table in Meilori’s. The web page is safer to visit. But if you insist on visiting Meilori’s, bring a friend who runs slower than you.

Got a question for Roland? Fire away!

Murder at the Movies: The True Story Behind “The Stepfather”

stepfather-splsh“Daddy’s home and he’s not very happy.”

The Stepfather (1987) was one of the first truly chilling horror movies I ever saw. I’ll never forget the opening sequence. Terry O’Quinn calmly wipes the blood off his face, changes his appearance, and walks off into the night, leaving behind his murdered wife and children.

O’Quinn’s stepfather was a man who longed for an idealized version of family life. He’d marry widows with children, seeking perfection, only to murder everyone when they failed to live up to his expectations.

The Stepfather was definitely scary, but the true story is worse. Much, much worse.

On November 9, 1971, a quiet, unassuming accountant in New Jersey committed a horrifying crime. After his three teenage children had left for school, he crept into the kitchen and shot his wife of twenty years in the back of the head. He then climbed the stairs to his mother’s suite, and kissed her before shooting her in the face.

His name was John List.John_List2

Once he’d put his grisly plan into action, List reportedly felt he couldn’t back out. He cleaned the home, moved the body of his wife to the empty ballroom, where he’d laid sleeping bags on the floor, and then began to write. List stopped the family’s milk, mail, and newspaper deliveries. He sent letters to his children’s schools and part-time jobs, explaining that they would be out of town for an undetermined amount of time to deal with a family emergency. He closed both his own and his mother’s bank accounts.

This god-fearing, deeply religious man then wrote a five-page letter to his pastor, explaining the reason behind the murders. Once that was done, he had nothing to do but wait.

And eat lunch.

His sixteen-year-old daughter Patricia was the first to come home from school. As she walked inside the house, she was shot in the back of the head. List did the same to his 13-year-old son, Frederick, and then drove to his eldest son’s school to watch him play a soccer game. When they returned home, List murdered his last remaining child, but unlike the others, John Jr. didn’t go quietly. His body jerked as List emptied a 9 millimeter and a .22 into him. John Jr. was shot multiple times in the chest and face.

“I don’t know whether it was only because he was still jerking that I wanted to make sure that he didn’t suffer, or that it was sort of a way of relieving tension, after having completed what I felt was my assignment for the day,” List said.

After more cleaning (List was nothing if not methodical), it was time for dinner. List said that he ate a peaceful, untroubled meal while his murdered family bled onto the sleeping bags in the ballroom. (His mother was left upstairs with a towel over her face, as her body was too heavy for this mild-mannered monster to move.) What many people find incredible is that List then went to bed and “slept like a baby,” as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

The next day, he turned down the thermostat, switched on all the lights in the house, and turned the radio to his favorite classical music station.

No one saw John List again for eighteen years.

His crimes were discovered a month later, when neighbors noticed the house lights were going out one by one and called the police.

list_busts

List with the bust that helped bring him to justice.

List was finally brought to justice, thanks to the TV series America’s Most Wanted. The show’s producers had commissioned a bust of what List would look like nearly two decades after his terrible crime. Ironically, List was a big fan of the show, and even saw part of the episode that featured him. He was surprised by how much the bust resembled him, but otherwise he wasn’t concerned. He should have been.

His luck was finally about to change. List was arrested at his accounting job in Virginia when a neighbor recognized the so-called “Bob Clark” as the man the FBI were looking for. Even after police confirmed that “Clark’s” fingerprints were a match for List’s, List continued to insist that they had the wrong man. Confronted with evidence from the crime scene and the police’s knowledge of List’s scars and other unique physical characteristics, he eventually confessed.

Chillingly, List had managed to create a completely new life. He was remarried to a divorcee, Delores Miller, and reportedly happy.

Thankfully the couple didn’t have children.

So what would lead a Sunday School teacher to shoot his children, wife, and mother in cold blood?

List apparently had trouble keeping a job. There was something about him that just didn’t fit, and he was fired or laid off again and again. Meanwhile, the bills kept piling up. He had two mortgages on his Victorian house. He’d been stealing money from his mother’s account.

While he claimed in his infamous five-page letter that the 1970s were a “sinful time,” and that he killed his family to save their souls so they could go to heaven, his financial difficulties likely had a lot more to do with it.

His wife had contracted syphilis from her first husband, and the disease was affecting her brain, leading List to resent her and feel he’d been “tricked” into marrying her too young. He also no doubt resented his overbearing, controlling mother, who insisted on living with them.

All these pressures combined made List crack.

Ten months after the murder, the infamous home mysteriously burned to the ground. The ballroom ceiling turned out to be a signed Tiffany & Co. original worth over $100,000…more than enough to have solved the family’s financial issues.

If only they’d known.

 

Scary True Stories: The Killing Game

Rodney Alcala

Reality TV…it’s harmless fun, right?

Well–not always.

Imagine winning The Bachelor, only to find out the man of your dreams is a serial killer.

It happened to Cheryl Bradshaw.

The year was 1978, and the ’70s version of The Bachelor was The Dating Game. Bradshaw had her pick of three eligible bachelors, including Rodney Alcala, described as a successful photographer who enjoyed skydiving and motorcycling.

Skydiving is an interesting hobby, but it’s nothing compared to Alcala’s true passion–raping and murdering women. Somehow he was accepted as a Dating Game contestant even though he was a convicted rapist and registered sex offender. By the time he met Bradshaw, he’d already murdered at least four women.

Cheryl Bradshaw

Cheryl Bradshaw

Not only did this serial killer compete for love on The Dating Game, he won! Thankfully, before Bradshaw could go on the last date of her life, her instincts kicked in. She refused to go out with Alcala, reportedly saying he was too creepy. Unlike other sociopaths who exude charm, there was something about this guy that set people off. Actor Jed Mills, who was on the same episode of the reality dating show, said his opponent was a “very strange guy” with “bizarre opinions.”

Robin Samsoe

Murder victim Robin Samsoe

After being rejected on The Dating Game, Alcala continued his murder spree, but the death of a 12-year-old girl proved to be his undoing. Robin Samsoe’s friend was able to describe her killer, and Alcala’s parole officer recognized him from the sketch. Alcala was tried twice for Samsoe’s murder before a California jury eventually sentenced him to death in the ’80s. The conviction was overturned twice, and he was sentenced to death again in 2010 for five murders. As recently as 2003, DNA evidence has linked Alcala to further victims.

No one knows for sure how many women Alcala killed. One investigator believes he’s responsible for at least 50 deaths, but other estimates have been as high as 130. A collection of 1,000 sexually explicit photographs found in Alcala’s possession could be the last images of other victims.

The would-be romeo is still alive today, awaiting his execution at San Quentin. One can only imagine Bradshaw’s reaction when she found out her “perfect date” was a serial killer.

Have you heard of Rodney Alcala? Do you think you’d recognize a serial killer if you met one? Have your instincts ever warned you someone was “off?” 

 

The Curse of Tut’s Tomb

Curse of King Tut

An ancient tomb is creepy enough. Add a fatal curse to the mix and you have the makings of a great horror story.

Only in this case, the story might turn out to be true.

British Lord George Carnarvon was obsessed with Egypt, so when archaeologist Howard Carter approached him for a loan, saying he had evidence of an undiscovered pharaoh’s tomb, it was a match made in heaven…or perhaps some other place. Carnarvon of course ignored the warnings of a clairvoyant who told him he would find danger in the tomb. Nothing would keep him from this great adventure!

Carnarvon’s enthusiasm and wealth joined forces with Carter’s skill and knowledge, and eventually the two men found the tomb of King Tutankhamen in 1922. When the tomb’s door was at last opened, a cobra killed Carnarvon’s pet canary. Since the pharaohs wore cobras on their headdresses as a symbol of protection, this was seen as a very bad omen indeed.

Carnarvon

Lord Carnarvon

A mere ten days after the men found Tut’s tomb, Carnarvon was dead–from a mosquito bite, of all things. He’d cut the bite while shaving, and it became infected, leading to blood poisoning. Some reports claim that the lights went out in Cairo and Carnarvon’s terrier howled and dropped dead when the lord expired, but that seems a tad farfetched.

However, whether you believe in curses or not, it’s difficult to ignore the rash of mysterious deaths that followed Carnarvon’s. Even those who survived were struck by misfortune. Sir Bruce Ingram, a friend of Carnarvon’s, lost his house in a fire soon after he received a mummified hand from the tomb. When he had the home rebuilt, it was again destroyed–this time by a flood.

A documentary about the tomb reported that 22 people involved in the excavation died from early and mysterious deaths, including the radiologist who examined Tut’s body before collapsing from exhaustion. Another man died from a high fever hours after opening the tomb. Carnarvon’s own wife died of an insect bite. Years later, an archaeologist’s son committed suicide, blaming Tut’s curse for his misfortune. Other causes of death include arsenic poisoning, assassination, and pneumonia.

According to Wikipedia, however, only eight people died within a dozen years. (Still, if I was in a group of less than 60 people and almost 10 were dead in a decade, I’d be nervous.) One of those who survived was Carter, who died of cancer in 1939 at the age of 64. Carter, though skeptical of the curse, was unnerved to see jackals similar to Anubis, ancient Egypt’s guardian of the dead, in 1926. It was the first time he’d ever seen them in over 35 years of working in the African desert.

Howard Carter

Howard Carter

Do you believe there was a curse surrounding Tut’s tomb, or were the mysterious deaths a coincidence? Would you have ignored the warnings, as Carnarvon did? 

PS: If you’re interested in curses, you’ll love reading this story about James Dean’s car.

Too scary? Mattel Turns Monsters into Princesses

Draculaura: Then and Now

Draculaura: Then and Now

I wasn’t a girl who played with dolls.

In fact, any doll that fell into my clutches met with a tragic end.

When I heard about Monster High as an adult, I was so envious! Imagine being able to play with the daughters of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Werewolf. How cool is that? These were dolls I would have appreciated back in the day. For once, Mattel–the creator of Barbie, the doll that launched a million body-image issues–had finally done something cool.

Though the Monster High girls were most definitely sexualized, with their teeny skirts, long legs, and heavy make-up, the message behind the line–to be yourself and embrace the “freaky” flaws that make you different–was admirable.

Monster High "ghouls" Draculaura, Cleo, Clawdeen Wolf, Frankie Stein, and Abbey Bominable

Monster High “ghouls” Draculaura, Cleo, Clawdeen Wolf, Frankie Stein, and Abbey Bominable

“Be Yourself, Be Unique, Be a Monster!” has been the battle cry of the franchise since its origins in 2010.

Then–in an act of complete hypocrisy and cowardice–Mattel bowed to the parents who complained that the dolls were “too scary,” “too dark,” and, most bewildering of all, “lacked a meaningful message.”

Since when do toys need a message? What on earth is Barbie’s message?

Call me crazy, but I think telling young people to be themselves and embrace what makes them unique is as good as it gets.

So what important message did the deep thinkers of Mattel come up with to replace “Be Yourself, Be Unique, Be a Monster”?

How Do You Boo?

Yep, How Do You Boo? is the new, meaningful message of these dolls.

Frankie Stein

The original Frankie Stein, daughter of Frankenstein

Even worse is how Mattel has changed the faces of the Monster High crew. Gone is the edgy, punk-ish look of Draculaura’s safety-pin earrings and Frankie Stein’s prominent scars. Cleo, daughter of The Mummy, is no longer wrapped in bandages but instead appears to be covered in some weird transparent cape thing.

But are these changes really a result of parental pressure, or is something else afoot?

A wise blogger pointed out that Mattel lost the rights to make Disney Princess dolls to Hasbro in January. The Disney Princesses were Mattel’s second-best seller after Barbie, and Barbie sales are tanking horribly. The blogger suggested that Mattel is messing with Monster High to regain all the customers who used to buy their Disney Princess dolls.

 Is Mattel turning Frankie into a princess?

Is Mattel turning Frankie into a princess?

Problem is, Monster High is for the kids who aren’t into the princess thing. Who like horror. Who love monsters. Kids like I was, who love playing with the “bad” toys the best. How many kids have felt comforted by the inclusive message of Monster High? Who loved hearing it was okay to be different?

Monster High perfectly bridged the gap between Barbie and dolls that are truly scary, like Living Dead Dolls and Undead TedsSure, the dolls are daughters (and sons) of monsters, but it was all in good fun and never crossed the line into disturbing or frightening.

If you ask me, these new Barbie-Anime hybrids are a lot more terrifying. Just another doll telling kids it’s not okay to be yourself.

What do you think of the Monster High reboot? Have you heard of Monster High? Would you have loved these dolls as a child?

Can our pets see ghosts?

cat sees ghost

I once heard a joke about how cats stare at nothing while dogs bark at nothing.

I forget the punchline.

But about seven years ago, I adopted an adorable, fluffy white kitten who became a beautiful, fluffy white cat.

This cat will, on a regular basis, suddenly turn and stare at the flight of stairs leading to the bedrooms. Her eyes will widen, and often she looks terrified. The worst is when she tracks whatever it is with her eyes, as “it” moves into the kitchen or towards the front door.

Did I mention my front door makes a lot of strange noises? As if it has a multi-chambered iron lock from medieval times clanking into place at 4 a.m. I have an ordinary deadbolt.

About three years ago, I adopted another kitten. It wasn’t long before she was staring at the stairs as well, also with terror in her eyes. She too appears to watch whatever it is as it makes its way to the kitchen or the front door, usually simultaneously with my other cat.

Do they just happen to stare at the same spot? Is their obvious fear brought on by some delusion?

Or are they seeing something I can’t?

It’s been scientifically proven that cats and dogs can see things humans can’t, including stripes on flowers or patterns on the wings of birds.

The secret behind their super vision is UV light. Cats, dogs, and other animals can perceive this type of light while we can’t.

Add senses of hearing and smell that are far superior to ours, and it’s not a stretch to say our pets are able to detect plenty of stuff we’re not. Some scientists now believe that a pet’s ability to predict the death of her owner could actually be the result of the animal detecting chemical changes within the body.

The internet is full of stories like mine. Apparently cats staring at something on a flight of stairs is quite common. Do spirits like to spend all their time hanging around a staircase, or is there some other reason felines are drawn to stairs?

Sometimes I wish I could see through their eyes.

But most of the time I’m very glad I can’t.

Have you ever suspected your pet has seen something supernatural? Do you think dogs and cats can see ghosts?

Photo courtesy of Darmom

Through the darkness

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I began 2016 with unbridled enthusiasm and optimism, convinced it was going to be a wonderful year.

How wrong I was.

I can’t remember another year filled with so many challenges and tragedies, both for me personally and for the world at large. And 2016 is barely halfway over!

We’ve lost David Bowie, Prince, Muhammad Ali, and Alan Rickman, to name a few.

The bombings in Brussels. The horrible mass murder at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando over the weekend. Numerous school shootings, bomb threats, and other attacks.

On the personal front, my publisher closed its doors. I was betrayed by someone I love, someone I trusted unconditionally. A good friend died of cancer without even telling me she was sick. I was sexually assaulted by a massage “therapist” in Tuscany, fended off two very inappropriate advances from married men during the same trip–and endured a long wait in an Italian emergency room and a highly uncomfortable procedure. After the assault, my credibility and integrity were repeatedly attacked by two people who should have protected and helped me.

To put it mildly, it’s been a shit show.

Maybe some of you are also struggling. I’m not the only person who’s had challenges this year–far from it.

And I’m certainly not an expert when it comes to bouncing back. Sometimes I grieve, or feel sorry for myself, or chastise myself for bouts of indecision and uncertainty.

But I always get back up.

A dear friend said something today that made me feel so much better. He said:

“If anyone can deal with these challenges, it’s you. You are strong in so many ways.”

With that in mind, here is everything I know about getting back up when life knocks you down repeatedly:

  • You can’t do it alone. Remember that old song, “That’s What Friends Are For”? It’s true.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People aren’t mindreaders. Someone who seems cold might be unsure how to support you.
  • Be kind to yourself. After the sexual assault, I beat myself up–why didn’t I punch the guy? Why didn’t I get the hell out of there? Why didn’t I tell him to go perform an impossible act on himself? But that kind of thinking doesn’t do it any good–it just makes things worse. What’s done is done. All you can do is take the horrible experience and use it to react better the next time, if you’re unlucky enough that there is a next time.
  • Count your blessings. We all have them, even when life is at its darkest. I have my health. I have people who love me. I have work, enough work to pay the bills and travel a bit. My animals are healthy. I have a home. What are you grateful for?
  • Help others. When you feel like you are in a deep, dark hole, the best way to get out is to shine a light for someone else. It’s amazing how much strength and positive energy will return to you. It always works. It can be as simple as being there for a friend who is also suffering.
  • Express yourself. I can’t stress this enough–don’t let this stuff fester. Get it out. Talk, blog, journal, whatever you have to do.

Anything else? I’d love to hear how you’ve gotten through tough times in your own life.

And I’d like to thank all of you for having my back, for championing me and encouraging me and being such a wonderful community of bighearted people. Your kind words and support have never been more appreciated.

I promise to return to my regular spooky posts next week.

Violated and molested at a Tuscan spa

assault survivor

This is a horror story of a different kind, and I’m sorry as hell to have to tell it.

I always thought that if I was ever sexually assaulted, I would put up a wicked fight. I had all my defences planned: an elbow here, a knee there.

But I never in a million years expected it to happen while I was naked and vulnerable, lying on a massage table at a spa that my tour company and my hotel had recommended.

On April 25 of this year, I decided to skip a scheduled wine tasting in order to get a massage at Terme Sensoriali, a spa in Chianciano Terme, Tuscany, that was endorsed by both G Adventures and the Agriturismo la Pietriccia.

When my tour guide phoned the spa to make the appointment for me, she was told all they had remaining was a “Tibetan massage.” I’d never heard of a Tibetan massage, and asked for a therapeutic one instead. When I was told that wasn’t possible, I decided the Tibetan treatment would be better than nothing.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Upon arrival at the spa, I was given flimsy paper underwear and told to remove my clothes before getting on the massage table, where I covered my body with a towel. So far, everything was as expected. An elderly Peruvian man came in, and my heart sank–to be honest, I’d seen him in the reception area and there was something about him that gave me a very bad feeling. I’d thought, “I hope that’s not going to be my therapist.”

He immediately increased my discomfort by telling me I was a “big girl,” and that I needed to drink more water to “get rid of these.” These were my hips and thighs, which he was jabbing repeatedly with his fingers. Since when do masseurs criticize your body? I was immediately put on the defensive, feeling the need to argue with him about whether or not my hips and thighs were a problem.

The man then proceeded to aggressively massage my inner thighs, very high up on the leg. As he moved my legs into a frog-like position, I felt even more vulnerable and exposed. There wasn’t much to the paper underwear, and I could feel I was falling out of it. The towel kept getting pushed aside, and I kept pulling it back. I know he could tell I was uncomfortable, because he kept telling me to “relax” and let my legs flop more to the side, much like a woman would when getting a pap smear. He repeatedly grazed my labia with his hands during this part of the massage, but at that point, it still felt like an accident, and I didn’t want to overreact.

Then, without warning, he yanked down my towel and began to knead my breasts. Even though I was extremely uncomfortable with this, it didn’t feel in the slightest bit erotic, so I told myself I was being silly. Maybe this is a normal massage for Italy, I thought. Maybe this is how they do it in this country.

To my surprise, the masseur started lecturing me about breast cancer and how it is prevalent in young women. He told me I needed to be doing regular breast exams, but reassured me that my breasts were “healthy.”

Since when are masseurs qualified to check women for breast cancer?

But the worst moment came when, still holding my breasts, he leered at me and said, “Just right for champagne.” I was sure I’d heard him wrong, so I asked him to repeat it. Once again, he told me my breasts were just right for champagne.

I knew then, without a doubt, that something was very wrong with this massage. This man was not a professional massage therapist.

Still, lying naked on a table alone with him, in a foreign country, I was not as assertive as I would normally be. When he told me to turn over, I asked him a bunch of increasingly demanding questions about what his intentions were. I was very much concerned about what he would do with my back turned.

In response, he said, “You do not need to know what to expect.”

“You do not need to know what to expect.”

As soon as I turned over, he roughly yanked the paper underwear down–again without warning or asking if I was okay with it–and massaged the top of my buttocks. Thankfully, that was the end of it.

He left the room, and I hurried to get dressed, feeling violated, dirty, and in need of a shower. It was in that moment that I knew, without a doubt, that I’d been molested. The way I felt confirmed that–no matter how much I desperately wanted to believe this had just been an ordinary massage–it was not. I felt sick to my stomach, and when my guide asked how it had been, I burst into tears.

How G Adventures Responded

At first, my guide was very sympathetic and angry on my behalf. She assured me what I’d experienced was NOT normal for Italy and said, “We must get this man fired!” She told me she would talk to Stefano, who owns Agriturismo la Pietriccia, and he would speak to the director of Terme Sensoriali. I wish now that she’d encouraged me to report the experience to the police, as I was too shellshocked and devastated to know what to do, or to think clearly about my options.

The next day, my guide told me that Stefano had spoken to the director of the spa, the head of personnel, and the masseur himself. While the spa refused to admit any wrong doing, and their idea of reparations was offering me a voucher for a return visit!, I was told the masseur ADMITTED he’d been “unprofessional” with me–that he had also rushed me, and, even though he could tell I was uncomfortable, did not stop the massage or alter his behaviour.

Upon telling me this, my guide’s tune changed completely. The Tibetan massage was an “emotional massage,” which apparently was an excuse for the masseur’s crude remarks, rudeness, and inappropriate fondling. Stefano’s wife and friends went to the same guy and never had a problem, so I must have misunderstood what happened. To make matters worse, my guide said, “You both have your opinion,” as if what happened to me was up for debate. I was careful not to embellish or exaggerate the incident, and any quotes you see in this post are exactly what was said to me–I’d happily swear to it in court.

Thankfully, the customer service team at G Adventures responded more appropriately. They reimbursed me for the horrible experience, which the spa still had the nerve to charge me for, gave me a small credit towards another trip, and–most importantly–conducted their own independent investigation of the incident. As a result of that investigation, they will no longer promote the spa to their tour groups.

How Terme Sensoriali Responded

The spa, unfortunately, has continued to defend its masseur and his treatment of me, going so far as to lie on Trip Advisor. In response to my complaint on the review site, they claimed I said the massage was “Excellent,” which is a complete lie. I said it was “Different,” using my tone and expression to convey what I could not voice. All I wanted was to get the hell out of there and avoid running into the man who violated me. Also, there were a small crowd of Italians waiting to pay lined up behind me–I did not feel comfortable getting into something so personal and upsetting in front of an audience of strangers.

Do I wish I’d spoken up? Yes.

The spa has also continued to use the term “emotional massage” as an excuse, and has said that a Tibetan massage involves massaging the “tops of the breasts.” That is not what was done to me. Also, there is no mention of a breast exam or lewd comments about the shape of the breasts, both of which I received.

They are using the fact that I was an English-speaking tourist against me. I must have misunderstood, or perhaps I was too sensitive and wasn’t familiar with normal Tibetan massages.

No. No. No.

How Agriturismo la Pietriccia Responded

Even though Stefano told me he was sorry for what happened to me, he continues to promote Terme Sensoriali on his website and presumably refer tourists to that spa. I had hoped that, with the result of G Adventures’ investigation, the agriturismo would also withdraw their support of this spa. Sadly, that is not the case, and I’m afraid and concerned for other foreign women, whom I believe are extremely vulnerable.

The fact that Stefano’s wife and her friends have been treated by this man without a problem isn’t a mitigating factor to me, as it is to Stefano and my G Adventures guide Laura Cimò. The agriturismo and the spa have a mutually beneficial relationship: they both send business to each other. For the masseur to mistreat Stefano’s wife or her friends would be beyond idiotic–not to mention Chianciano Terme is a very small town, and news would spread quickly if this man began molesting women in the community.

It also doesn’t matter to me that no other tourist complained. First of all, most visitors to the spa do not get a massage–they use the mineral pools. Second, only a third of all sexual assault victims report the assault. And third, even if I’m the only woman that man has ever done this to, one is one too many.

I’m sickened by what happened to me, and I still wasn’t ready to call it what it was until a sergeant with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police told me it is, in fact, sexual assault.

I have two reasons for publicly telling my story: one, I hope public pressure will convince Stefano at the Agriturismo la Pietriccia to stop sending tourists to Terme Sensoriali and withdraw its endorsement of that spa.

And two, I want to stand in solidarity with every single person who has been violated, molested, assaulted, or raped. I understand now what it’s like to feel so horribly vulnerable and helpless. To have people doubt your words, twist them around, lie, and treat you like a pariah.

Please learn from my experience–if someone EVER makes you feel uncomfortable, whether a masseur, doctor, dentist, or even a friend–don’t wonder if you’re overreacting. Don’t worry about being a bitch, or a prude, or try to be polite. Do whatever you can to get out of the situation that is bothering you right away. I will forever beat myself up for not telling that guy off and leaving the room the minute he began to insult my body–that was the first clue something was really wrong.

I didn’t want to be this girl. This is what happened to me. I didn’t want this to happen, I didn’t ask for it, and it wasn’t my fault.

But I will do everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

What You Can Do

Please sign my petition urging the Agriturismo la Pietriccia to stop promoting Terme Sensoriali to its guests, which would include removing the spa’s ads and links from the agriturismo’s website. Share the petition and this story with your circle, especially women who have a trip to Tuscany planned or who may consider one in the future.

Thanks for your help, and thanks for listening.